Uttar Pradesh faces meat shortage as sellers go on strike

Upset sellers say crackdown on illegal abattoirs affecting legal trade too; eateries remove meat dishes from menus

Meat is in short supply in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh as dozens of meat sellers have gone on strike, alleging the government's crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses was impacting legitimate businesses too.

New chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who was sworn in more than a week ago, has ordered the closure of illegal slaughterhouses and small family-run butcher shops operating without proper licences. He has also ordered a crackdown on cow smuggling.

Hindus consider cows to be sacred and Hindu groups suspect that some slaughterhouses are also trading in cows, not just in buffaloes.

The meat shortage was felt keenly in many parts of Uttar Pradesh yesterday, the second day of the strike, with meat dishes disappearing from the menu of scores of eateries and hotels.

In capital city Lucknow, many eateries remained shut as the supply of different types of meat slowed down. The city is famous for its kebabs.

Mr Mohammad Usman, who runs Tunday Kababi, a shop famous for its tunday kebabs which are usually made with buffalo meat, said the eatery had run out of meat.

The crackdown could also affect poor families that can afford only buffalo meat, which is the cheapest meat on the market. Goat meat costs around 450 rupees (S$9.60) per kg while buffalo meat costs 120 rupees to 130 rupees per kg.

"Many restaurants in our area have shut down. This is the first time we are facing a crisis like this," Mr Usman told The Straits Times over the telephone from Lucknow.

"It will get resolved after the slaughterhouses get licences. But how long will that take?"

Many in the Muslim-dominated buffalo meat industry are complaining that they are being targeted unnecessarily and that thousands could potentially lose their livelihoods over the crackdown.

Fears have been further fanned after four meat shops were burnt down by suspected vigilantes in the state's Hathras district last week.

"Meat sellers are worried over the crackdown on slaughterhouses and this is creating a shortage. Butchers are afraid of slaughtering buffaloes and this has adversely hit their livelihood," Mr Mubeen Qureshi of the Lucknow Bakra Gosht Vypar Mandal or goat meat chamber of commerce, which is taking part in the protest, told Indian reporters.

He claimed that even shops selling chicken, goat and sheep meat legally were being shut down as part of the government drive.

But the authorities maintained that they were targeting only those operating illegally and without proper paperwork.

India is the world's largest exporter of buffalo meat, with exports pegged at US$4 billion (S$5.5 billion). Uttar Pradesh accounts for nearly half of that export.

There are 75 government-approved abattoirs and meat processing centres in India, of which 41 are in Uttar Pradesh.

Following the strike, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government at the federal and state levels tried to assuage concerns within the meat industry. It said those with licences would not be bothered and warned vigilante groups against attacking meat shops.

"The licensed slaughterhouses should comply with the norms mentioned in the licence. No orders have been issued to take any action against any shop selling chicken, fish or eggs," said Uttar Pradesh health minister Siddharth Nath Singh on Monday.

The government has not given any estimate on the number of illegal slaughterhouses.

The crackdown could also affect poor families that can afford only buffalo meat, which is the cheapest meat on the market. Goat meat costs around 450 rupees (S$9.60) per kg, while buffalo meat costs 120 rupees to 130 rupees per kg.

"We want the issue to be resolved," one butcher told Indian television.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2017, with the headline 'Uttar Pradesh faces meat shortage as sellers go on strike'. Print Edition | Subscribe